What Raggedy Ann Said
by Elizabeth Rollins
At the end of the bed all of the glittering black eyes stare at me in the dark. I feel the bear beside me shudder.
He whispers, "They're going to hate me."
"No, no," I say, "Everyone gets a turn, you'll see. They know how it is."
The little bear turns on his side and snuggles closer to my arm. "Not me," he whispers, "no one likes me. No one has ever liked me."
I can feel him shivering under the covers. On the shelves at the end of the bed everyone else sits neatly in rows, propped up against each other, some with legs dangling over the shelves, some slumped in sleep. The ones who are awake stare resentfully. Raggedy Ann is sleeping on my left side, where she always sleeps. Her arm is flopped lazily over her eyes.
I wake Raggedy Ann up. I whisper in her ear the problem we're having. She sits up and looks at the shelves.
She says, "No one minds getting bumped back a night for the sake of the new bear, do they?" The animals on the shelves rustle and murmur.
The red dog with cheap carnival-prize fur says, "It was supposed to be my night."
"Tomorrow will be your night." Raggedy sighs. "You know, I remember when a certain dog got fished out of the garbage can. It would surprise me very much if he wasn't nice to other animals who have been scared like he was."
The red dog puts a paw over his eyes. "Oh!" he says.
Raggedy stares at the animals on the shelves. After a moment she says "All you have to do in this life is love and be loved. That's it, the most important thing any of you can do. Please." She pulls her dress up so that her fabric ink I love you heart shows. "I'm wearing this so that you can always remember. How would you feel if I forgot?"
We lay back down and Raggedy takes the bear in her arms. "I don't know what's gotten in to them," she whispers.
Raggedy and I stay up late, listening through the walls. I have my face on top of hers. She is wet through from my crying.
"It's all you can do," she says for the hundredth time. "You can't make them happy. All you can do is love them."
I put my hand on her little fabric red ink heart which says I love you.
"But," I say.
"But nothing," she says.
The phone rings in the house. I lean over Raggedy and put my ear up against the wall again. The cool painted surface feels good on my hot face. The voice on the other side grows louder.
"Goddamn you! Goddamn you! You son of a bitch!"
Raggedy's cotton mitten pulls at my shoulder. "Come on," she says, "come on."
We hear the phone as it slams against the other side of the wall. The phone bells ring and then there is silence and sobbing.
I stuff Raggedy's hair into my mouth. Everyone on the shelves wakes up, murmuring, their voices frightened.
"What is it? What is it?" they ask.
"Let's go get them," Raggedy Ann says, "let's bring everyone to bed. Everyone needs some love tonight."
When I enter middle school, there is an error. I am signed up for two classes at once. I don't want to bother anyone, so I go to each of them, alternating fairly. Raggedy and I talk it over at night. We agree it is best to give each equal time, just like we do at home, even if I do like science better than flute class.
When a Caterpillar Exploration Field Trip for science is announced and I can't look at a calendar right away to see if it falls on a science day or not, I am terribly worried. Luckily, it does fall on a science day. All afternoon I am outside in the sun with the other children, looking up in the branches of dogwood trees. I love the trees, the other children, my teacher. I love them all, I love them more than flute.
I stop attending flute class, but I don't tell Raggedy Ann, because I'm sure she will worry about the flute teacher. I don't like him as much as my science teacher. In fact, I don't like him at all.
Mid-quarter, the teachers report my absences as truancy, my parents are called in and there's a meeting. Everyone is frowning. When I explain my method of attendance, their expressions change to alarm. After a silence, my science teacher laughs and winks at me. "Case closed," she says to the principal, "Science wins."
On the way home my mother touches my hand as though I'm someone she's just met.
Most mornings, Raggedy sleeps in. After I get up, I tuck her back in with the sheet folded carefully under her chin. "Love you, love you," I say.
I don't take Raggedy when I leave for college. By then she is in the pile with all the others, at the back of the closet in my mother's house.
For years, there is only a blank creature with beige fur that someone gave me when I left a job. The bear lives in my closets, silent and stuffed. I move often, looking for a better job, better sex, a better life. I don't have the heart to put the bear in a bag of garbage, so he comes with me.
After the second divorce, though, I get rid of everything. Without flinching, I put the bear in a goodwill donation bag, his head under a pile of old sweaters and emptied photo frames.
My mother is moving and this time she's getting rid of the storage bin full of our childhood stuff.
She calls and says, "I have all your dolls. What should I do with them? Most of them have mildewed. I could send them to you."
"No," I say.
"Should I throw them all out?"
"Not Raggedy," I say, "send Raggedy Ann."
A week later the package arrives. It's in a padded envelope. I tear it open. Inside is Raggedy's head and a little piece of fabric torn from her chest that says in a red ink heart, I love you. Both the head and the torn fabric are in a ziplock freezer bag.
I call my mother. "Where is the rest of her?"
"She was all stuffing and dry rot. I figured I'd just send the parts you'd want the most. I threw out the rest. Nothing much anyway. One leg was already gone."
I keep Raggedy in her plastic bag in the closet, resting on top of a stack of old journals.
One day I get her down.
"Listen," I say.
Her blank face stares at me through the plastic. I take her out of the bag. The cotton face is stained and pale, with circles of dried glue where her eyes used to be. The patch of her fabric chest with the heart is frayed on all edges, the top of the heart torn.
"All this about love," I say. "I have to talk to you."
The head sits on top of the bag. She is, regardless of her missing arms and legs and torso, smaller than I remembered.
"About love," I say. "I've got a problem. I love everyone. I love them all so much. I can't stop. I can see everyone's point of view. I can see how they all feel and I'm sorry for them, or happy for them, or angry for them. I'm in love with everyone. I fall in love every day. It's too much, don't you see? You're wrong. You and your red ink heart. You're wrong about love. You can't love everyone. It's impossible. It's bad for you. Look at you. Look what's happened to you."
Her neck, where it has been dismembered from her body, is folded back up towards her face. Inside her head there are thick wads of white cotton stuffing. It is good quality stuffing. I smooth her neck folds down while I talk. The stains I've left on her over the years are brown at the edges. She is bald. Her red soft mop hair is gone. The back of her head is umblemished, white.
"I need you to talk to me," I say. "You and all this love. It's your fault. Can't you give me some advice about this? There's no room for you in this world. Nobody likes this concept of love anymore. Love is completely outdated. Can't you tell me what to do?"
The stained face is limp on top of the plastic bag.
"Goddamn you," I shout. "It's not equal sharing, equal love! You were wrong, you hear me! Stop insisting that! You can't love everybody the same! Everyone is not deserving of love! You can't expect everyone to love you back anymore!"
The red of her triangle nose and the perfect oval of her lips have faded to orange. I pinch up the fabric of her heart with two fingers and shake it in front of her.
"Shut up about love! I don't love you anymore!"
I throw the heart on her face. It lands, covering one circle of lost eye glue.
"You!" I say. "Who could love an old whore like you?"
Copyright©2003 Elizabeth Rollins